Let me start by confessing a dirty little secret. When I drive into work each morning I tend to listen to the ABC’s rolling news radio station. That’s the one which shifts to coverage of Parliament when it is in session. Now this morning I’m driving to work and what does the ABC report? Yes, that’s right, today’s political polls.
Now stop me if my memory is faulty here, but all through the horror years of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd fiascos, and on through the Abbott versus Shorten match-up since 2013, I do not recall a single instance of the following: Newspoll shows Labor doing well and some other poll shows Labor doing badly, so the ABC leads off by pointing to the other poll first and down-playing Newspoll. I can’t remember that ever happening. No, when Newspoll showed Labor doing well you could almost sense the excitement and barely constrained celebrations in the billion-dollar-a-year, taxpayer-subsidised sheltered workshop that is ‘our’ ABC.
But what about this morning, April 13? Well, wouldn’t you know that Newspoll is out today and shows Mr. Abbott and the Coalition closing the gap to 49-51, with Mr. Shorten’s favourability, to put it kindly, somewhat in decline. On the other hand, a Fairfax IPSOS poll shows Labor increasing its lead to 54-46. So let me ask you this: which poll do you guess the ABC’s rolling news radio station led its bulletins with?
OK, that was a rhetorical question. Every reader of this website already knows the answer. The reporter led with the Fairfax poll, also making a few derogatory remarks about the government while noting that Treasurer Joe Hockey’s favourability has plunged in the Fairfax pollsters’ estimation. After reporting the good news for Labor, there was a cursory mention of the Newspoll result, but with this explicitly stated caveat (to calm down the lefty true believers) that ‘…this still leaves Labor in a winning position.’
The ABC doesn’t even pretend to take the same approach to the two major parties. And if we leave political coverage alone, the ABC can’t bring itself to mention the ‘M’ word when reporting the slaughter of Christians in Kenya. No talk of ‘terrorists’, instead it is ‘extremists’. And no explicit mention of who is doing this ‘are-you-a-Christian?’ stuff in order to weed out infidels and kufars for immediate execution. What do ABC viewers imagine is behind this sort of culling? This is self-censorship so out of control it goes beyond a bad joke. Just to state for the record what the ABC point-blank refuses to report: the latest jihadi slaughter in Kenya was the work of Muslim terrorists deliberately targeting Christians, who as it happens are the most targeted group in the world today – always by Muslims.
Are we not supposed to admit this is happening? How do we fix the ABC and drag it from its Harry Potter world, where ‘they who must not be named’ are indeed seldom named?
Of course this morning’s awful poll coverage on the ABC isn’t just the fault of the ABC. Or its managing director, Mark Scott. Or its board. Sure, they all deserve tonnes of blame, as they seem to be deliberately ignoring/flaunting/contravening/not enforcing (take your pick) the statutory obligation to be impartial. By the way, how is that quest going to hire one, single, solitary person with a right-of-centre political background for any of the main ABC current affairs TV shows, Mr. Scott? Oh, I forgot. Your mantra is that one’s background as a Labor supporting, Twitter-broadcasting lefty has no bearing on the impartiality with which your hacks do their jobs (though we’re never allowed to test this with righties).
So blame all of the above people to your heart’s content. But let’s be honest. This Coalition government is doing nothing about it. Malcolm Turnbull is a near-useless minister in charge of this biased billion-dollar-a-year behemoth. Why doesn’t every minister start every ABC interview, always, by complaining about bias (with a few different examples each time), and then stop appearing on any ABC current affairs shows until, say, two or three conservatives get a job with the ABC as producers and presenters. (By way of noting that the world will not end if conservative gets behind an ABC microphone, ministers could point to the BBC and note the various righties who manage to get jobs there.) And why not put mandated advertising for the ABC on the table, along the lines of Canada’s CBC. And then put privatisation on the table. And then suggest that taxpayers might be allowed to opt out of paying taxes to ‘our’ ABC, as it seems intent on becoming the propaganda arm of the Greens, and anti-border control, anti-‘get spending under control’ segments of our population.
How about this government does something, anything, about the ABC? At some point it becomes your fault, Mr Abbott, for not laying down the law to Malcolm Turnbull — or, better still, replacing him altogether — and reining in Mr. Scott and the ABC.
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline